Our Union: By the People

By Capt. Tim Canoll, ALPA President

Jon Stewart’s Sept. 11, 2001, monologue helped capture in words the terrible shock that left so many of us speechless. “The view from my apartment was the World Trade Center,” he said to his audience on The Daily Show. “And now, it’s gone, and they attacked this symbol of American ingenuity and strength and labor and imagination and commerce. And it is gone. But you know what the view is now? The Statue of Liberty. The view from the south of Manhattan is now the Statue of Liberty.”

Different opinions surely exist on his politics and whether he should host a 2016 presidential debate. But on that horrific day, the now retired host of The Daily Show drew strength as so many of us did from the resilience and enduring spirit of our democracy.

Democracy, which is derived from the Greek words demos, meaning “common people,” and kratos, meaning “rule or strength,” translates as “rule by the people.” The United States is a democracy like no other. ALPA was originally founded and currently functions on the same democratic ideals.

In regular elections and routine intervals, each ALPA member chooses the individuals who will represent his or her views in our union’s work. Every pilot in our ranks has a role and responsibility to cast a ballot. Through the committees and governing councils that result, ALPA members’ representatives participate in directing every union action from individual pilot group contract negotiations to international safety and security policy positions. As Capt. Bill Couette, ALPA’s vice president–administration/secretary, notes in this issue, for the nearly one-third of ALPA local councils whose representatives’ terms end on Feb. 29, 2016, this democratic process means ballot season is upon us.

As airline pilots, we spend much of our time in the cockpit managing change—whether it is routing, weather, traffic, or an unexpected encounter with a laser or an unmanned aircraft system. When we fly the line, regulations, policies, and procedures combine to create a practical and tested framework in which to safely operate in a changing environment.

Similarly, democracy forms the framework for our country and also our union to manage a changing environment. In the wake of 9/11, ALPA recognized and reacted to the need to change the way we secure the airline industry. We conceived of and advanced the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, which enables trained and deputized airline pilot volunteers to serve as the last line of defense to protect airliners from terrorist attacks. By seeking support from Congress, ALPA was able to help make the program a reality in 2002. Today, thousands of FFDOs protect the cockpits of our nation’s airliners.

ALPA will continue to turn to the democratic process to make air transportation more secure. In 2001, Congress mandated reinforced cockpit doors on airliners, a security enhancement that ALPA strongly supported. We knew from practical experience that the door is vulnerable when it’s opened during flight in order for pilots to take care of operational or physiological needs. The secondary cockpit barrier emerged as the low-cost and high-effectiveness solution. ALPA believes strongly that Congress must enact legislation to require that all passenger airliners be equipped with a secondary cockpit barrier as an essential layer of security.

Similarly, ALPA depends on our democratic principles to make our union even stronger. We embrace the new and contrasting ideas that drive forward movement, which is essential to progress. Indeed, debate and its results embody the full potential of democracy. Our members express their perspectives through their elected representatives, and the will of the people prevails.

We will never forget the terrorist attacks that brought the Statue of Liberty into view from Jon Stewart’s apartment. Nor will we fail to advance the democratic ideals for which it stands.

This article is from the August 2015 issue of Air Line Pilot magazine, the Official Journal of the Air Line Pilots Association, International—a monthly publication for all ALPA members.